Timely access to quality seeds by smallholder farmers is a major enabler for agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Farmers with the appropriate variety of seeds and related packages can reap substantial rewards in terms of improving food security and reducing poverty. Seed roadmaps play a crucial role in enabling national governments, small seed producers, and the private sector in planning, producing, tracking and delivering quality seeds to smallholder farmers.
Understanding the crucial role of seed roadmaps, ICRISAT’s Digital Agriculture team as part of the Tropical Legumes III project, recently created an online digital seed catalogue and seed roadmap tool. These provide insights into varietal weaknesses and strengths that inform crop breeding priorities and variety replacement needs to develop crop ‘breeding product profiles’. The tools facilitate planning the availability of early generation seed (EGS) for new crop varieties and variety replacement/recall year.
Training seed systems stakeholders, including national partners, private seed companies, small seed producers, and farmer-based seed producing units in using these digital tools is an important step in operationalizing them. With support from the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) under Flagship 4 activities, two training programs were conducted at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia (3-4 September) and Kampala, Uganda (6-7 September) to demonstrate both the tools.
Seventy nine participants representing NARS partners, NGOs, CGIAR centers and the private sector [Eastern Agricultural Development Co’ Ltd (EADCL), Victoria Seeds Limited, Pearl Seeds Ltd, Kitagata Mixed Farmers Coop Society Ltd, CEDO SEEDS, Uganda National Farmers Federation (UNFFE), NARO Holdings Ltd (NHL), Facilitation for Innovations and Sustainable Productivity (FINASP), Equator Seeds Limited and Uganda Seed Trade Association (an association of 27 private seed companies)] included 39 from Ethiopia representing chickpea, common bean, finger millet and sorghum, and 40 from Uganda representing common bean, finger millet, groundnut and sorghum.
The first day of the training focused on identifying, reviewing, trimming and editing the data fields defined in the seed catalogue. As a standard feature, the seed catalogue tool provides 77 data fields for every crop and country. Participants could review the data field list and propose changes for a crop and country. Most teams suggested the inclusion of new fields specific to crops and countries. Data on the seed varieties in the catalogue were reviewed by crop-specific teams, who added new varieties and the associated data in the catalogue.
A live dashboard provided an incentive for the participants to improve the data and track data completeness in the catalogue tool.
The second day saw a hands on training on using the digital seed roadmap tool. While the participants felt the tool was very useful in planning their seed production cycles, they suggested the addition of more crops; splitting foundation seed into Pre-basic and Basic seed categories to better suit NARS parlance; percentage-wise allocating of seed production among the planning units; multiple selection to bring all planning units into a single step; including seed classes (such as C1, C2, and C3 for Ethiopia and Quality Declared Seed (QDS – for Uganda), and mechanisms to handle season-wise production and to tailor the tool for seed companies.
Point of Contacts (POCs) were identified, who will be given login credentials to access both the tools and serve as liaisons between the crop and DAY teams. Feedback on the training through a custom-built online platform revealed a very positive response, with 42% of trainees from Ethiopia and 44% from Uganda ranking the training as very good. Most participants were keen on similar trainings and refresher courses in other countries as well. The Uganda Seed Trade Association has requested a demo of the tool and is keen to explore the possibility of a separate instance of the tool for USTA.
The training was conducted by Ms. Kanika Singh, Project Officer, DAY and supported by Mr. Krishnam Raju of Keansa Solutions, who co-developed these tools with ICRISAT.
The process of selecting crop-specific varietal characteristics
In the initial phase, the seed catalogue comprised of 77 varietal traits, which were common for all the crops in the tool (the example of common bean variety Awash 1 in Ethiopia (image 1). As we progressed with adding data, it was realized that some fields were not applicable for crops individually. This gave an impression of data incompleteness and the need to trim the list of varietal traits, specific to each crop, which was an important part of the training workshop. To conduct this exercise, an online system was created where the participants had to select their respective country and crop and the list of traits was displayed for them. A check box was provided with each trait (image 2). Participants were asked to discuss and uncheck the traits that did not apply to their crops. Upon completion of this activity, the results were displayed (image 3); so only the selected traits were saved and displayed in the seed catalogue. Following the exercise, the common bean team in Ethiopia now has 50 traits in the catalogue with 87% of data completeness.